‘Bawling like a baby:’ Ball State’s opening weekend sees multiple career firsts

Graduate student infielder Haley Wynn throws Feb. 13 during a practice at the softball field at the First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Zach Carter, DN.
Graduate student infielder Haley Wynn throws Feb. 13 during a practice at the softball field at the First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Zach Carter, DN.

As first-year Ball State head coach Helen Peña walks into her office, there are multiple things in the room that probably seem normal. Some items are a television, a few couches, and of course, a desk. But sprinkled through the room are some different objects.

Behind her desk, there are three black squares. The first says failure, the second says execute, and the third says success. To her, you need all three to get where you want to go.

“You have to win from within before you can win outside yourself,” she said. “We have talked about this game being 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. Well, how much are we focusing on the mental stuff, or are we just training the skills?”

When Ball State left for Jacksonville, Florida – the site of the River City Leadoff – Peña was pumped. She was excited to see her team in an actual game for the first time since being named their commander and chief. 

She also finished the trip with her first win with the Cardinals.

“It was special,” Peña said. “It was nice to see them out on the field and even though we had some ups and downs, I think they had some fun together and learned about ourselves a bit more. I think with it being the first weekend, as long as we grow and learn, it's not a failure.” 

However, that wasn’t the only first that happened on the trip. In Peña’s first win against Fordham, redshirt sophomore pitcher Jessica Hoffman walked to the plate looking for her first collegiate career hit. 

With the bases loaded, she crushed a grand slam that had the Cardinals rush the field before the ball cleared the outfield wall. 

“I was obviously really happy, and then I started crying,” Hoffman said, laughing. “I made my way through the bases bawling like a baby. After getting to home [plate], I was embraced by all of my teammates.

Head coach Helen Peña gives directions Feb. 13 during a practice at the softball field at the First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Zach Carter, DN.

“I got hugs from everyone [as I was] still crying like a baby.”

Over the weekend, Ball State kicked off its 2024 season with five games. After 35 innings of softball, the Cardinals finished the trip 1-4. While the black and red were excited for the kickoff, seniors like graduate student infielder Haley Wynn took it in as this was the last opening weekend of their collegiate careers. 

“When you woke up, It felt different,” Wynn said. “I could feel the difference in the way I approached the travel day, the game day, the warm-up, everything.”

Throughout the event, the Cardinals showed where they need to improve. According to Peña, part of their issues came down to their mental focus. 

“We definitely made some of the moments too big,” Peña said. “We really just needed to trust our preparation and our training. 

In five games, Ball State pitchers gave up 36 runs and 43 hits. To Peña, the issues stemmed from multiple factors.

“I would probably say a little bit of nerves and trying to do too much,” Peña said. “[We didn’t] really trust our spin and our attack.”

However, after three straight losses – James Madison (1-6, 1-8) and Jacksonville (2-4) – Ball State’s offense found their stride. It came after a discussion the Cardinals had with assistant coach Matt Burns.

“Coach Burns had some conversations with them about making small adjustments,” Peña said. “[He] tried to talk to them in a manner that puts them in the best competitive mindset possible.”

Following the discussion, the Cardinals came alive at the plate. Even though they fell to North Florida 10-5 on Saturday evening, Ball State finished the game with 10 hits. Two of those were home runs from Wynn – who hit two during the event –  and redshirt junior utility player McKayla Timmons. 

Yet in the end, the Cardinals still finished with the loss. 

Mulholland moves to throw.jpg
Redshirt sophomore utility player McKenna Mulholland moves to throw Feb. 13 during a practice at the softball field at the First Merchants Ballpark Complex. Zach Carter, DN.

“I think it was the little things,” Wynn said. “We did show a lot of fight and heart this weekend, which is huge going forward… But we have to do the little things right. We have to clean up the defense and find a way to do some situational hitting.” 

Coming into their final game, the Cardinals attempted to avoid the sweep to start the season. Their final chance to do so was against Fordham. In the first inning, Hoffman launched her grand slam and following that, Ball State never looked back. 

“She didn't surprise me. I've seen that swing against our own pitchers,” Peña said “[Hoffman’s] one of the hardest working people and to see the game reward her for her work, it was a beautiful moment.” 

The Cardinals once again ended the contest with 10 hits. However, Fordham did not go down quietly as their offense had its moments. But the Ball State’s defense rose to the occasion, defeating the Rams 10-8. 

After one weekend of the 2024 season, Peña learned plenty about the Cardinals. She understood what worked and what required to be looked at going forward.

“Their energy was up and they had each other's backs for sure,” Peña said. “I think we just take those learning moments. We get better at them, we put our heads down, and we get to work this week.”

Ball State will compete in the Chattanooga Challenge this weekend. Their first game is Friday, Feb. 16 against Jacksonville State, with the first pitch at 10 a.m. 

Contact Zach Carter with comments at zachary.carter@bsu.edu or on X @ZachCarter85.


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